Following a lavish procession through the streets of Phnom Penh, former Cambodian People’s Party president and Senate President Chea Sim’s body was yesterday cremated in an elaborate Buddhist ceremony in Wat Botum park.
Shortly after 7am, on what the government decreed a day of national mourning, the golden casket containing the long-time CPP powerbroker, was moved from his house to the cremation site, accompanied by floats lacquered with gold, musicians, honour guards and monks.
Pro-government civil society groups, such as the Cambodian Red Cross and Cambodia Scouts, also marched alongside.
While Norodom, Sihanouk and Sothearos Boulevards were lined with mourners all the way to the funeral pyre at Wat Botum, they rarely formed more than one layer and tended to peel off as the procession continued past.
A City Hall spokesman claimed crowds reached 40,000 people, including 20,000 members of the public.
However, at Wat Botum, honour guards and officials outnumbered spectators, who appeared to number in the low hundreds.
Onlookers appeared sombre, and few wanted to discuss the legacy of the man who headed the CPP since 1991 and presided over the Senate from 1999.
Foregoing the opportunity to sit on the stage with high-ranking guests, Chea Sim’s niece Yin Soeun, 56, said she came from her uncle’s native Romeas Hek district in Svay Rieng province to pay tribute.
“I am very sorry that I didn’t see his last breath. I did cry for several days, but today I don’t cry anymore,” she said.
Nearby, although not expressing fondness for any of Cambodia’s leaders, Sok Toch Ny, 50, a resident of the capital’s Daun Penh district watching the spectacle said simply: “Let him rest in peace”.
Among attendees were Prime Minister Hun Sen, King Norodom Sihamoni, Queen Mother Norodom Monineath, newly elected Senate President Say Chhu and National Assembly President Heng Samrin as well as foreign diplomats.
Delivering a eulogy, Hun Sen said the loss of Chea Sim, who died aged 82 on June 8 after long suffering high blood pressure, diabetes and other ailments, was heartbreaking.
“Throughout his life, Samdech Chea Sim had been struggling for national independence and especially overcoming every obstacle for national salvation, building peace, national reconciliation, defending, rehabilitation and development of Cambodian motherland,” he said, according to an English copy of his speech.
The funeral finished just before 11am, with King Norodom Sihamoni lighting the funeral flame, a moment marked with a barrage of celebratory rockets.
Today, the CPP will convene its 38th central committee congress to elect a new party president – already announced as Hun Sen.
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